The 5 ingredients of community glue

This is a guest post from Douglas Atkin, CEO at The Glue Project and author of “The Culting of Brands.”

It may seem trite to have a list of ingredients. We’re talking about high-functioning communities here, not a sponge cake.

But over and over, the same motivations, techniques and principles emerged as I talked to members and leaders of successful communities. You really can identify the key ingredients that are essential to making strong social glue.

What follows is no more than a list. I’ll be covering each ingredient in much more detail and they’ll be illustrated with examples from real communities.

And this list is not exhaustive. If you think there are other key ingredients, then please feel free to comment on this blog. The more cooks in the kitchen, the better!

So far, I’m up to twenty ingredients. Here’s a summary of the first, and arguably, most important five.

1. What’s your purpose?

You can call it a purpose, a worldview, ideology, belief system, a creed, values, vision, mission, whatever. If a group doesn’t have one, potential recruits won’t know what they’ll get if they join. You and your members won’t have a clear mission that defines the group’s behavior. There won’t be a values or belief system that the community shares, identifies with, and becomes wedded to. And you’ll be fuzzy about whom you recruit and reject…and eject (all equally important in maintaining the integrity of the community).

2. Make love.

As important as a purpose or ideology is to a successful community, love is more so. Purpose and love are the two critical ingredients (like eggs and sugar in a cake).

But love trumps ideas.

People join and stay in communities primarily for the people, not the belief system or worldview (no-matter what they might say). It’s not the word of god, or the political manifesto, or the mission or values that’s the primary reason for joining and staying. It’s the other members.

This was an insight I gained from talking to members of cults and cult-like communities. And it was confirmed when I went to Meetup and we researched the key reasons for becoming committed to a group.

We found that it was after attending four of five events that people felt as if they truly belonged. At that point the connection they felt with the other members transcended (but not replaced) the original purpose for joining the community. It was the other people that became the reason to stay. So, welcome new members and introduce them to others. Create lots of opportunities for interaction…

3. Rub people together.

Community is a contact sport. The more people rub together, the stickier they become.

If people interact frequently with others who share the same interests, causes and values, enduring relationships will occur. This is true for both virtual and real communities, but is more effective in face-to-face groups where two things are at play: a) the investment people have made to show up is often translated to investment in the future of the community, b) all the unconscious forms of communication that research is proving to be so important…body language, facial expression, voice intonation, laughter…get a chance to work in a way that is not possible, or is seriously compromised when online.

4. Create a safe space.

This is not about protection from attack or harm (although it can be). It’s about creating what people often call a ‘safe space’ to be themselves. This is a huge, and I would argue, the most important emotional benefit received from belonging.

It happens when people feel that they are amongst ‘like-others.’ They can relax and be themselves without fear of censure that they might get in environments where they can’t choose the others around them (such as their workspace or school). The ability to self-actualize is a huge motivation to join and stay in a community. Given this is most likely to happen when surrounded by ‘like-others,’ having a safe space is highly dependent on having the ‘right’ members.

5. Get the right members

There are right and wrong members. Frankly, not everyone should be welcome.

For people to feel at home and be themselves, to interact happily and to get what they need from the other members, to feel like they truly belong, to recruit successfully, the community must have the right members.

What makes a member right or wrong? The right ones are those that agree with and support the Purpose and values of the group. They’re the ones who contribute and show up. The wrong ones are the flakes, the passengers, the ones who are in the wrong place because they don’t really buy into the mission of the community. They’re the detractors (constructive criticism is good, undermining is not).

About Douglas Atkin

Douglas believes that community is the engine of loyalty -- to companies, brands, religions, causes, sports teams, whatever -- and that social glue is generally a good thing. He works with organizations to create to create stronger glue through better community platforms and programs. He does this through his venture: The Glue Project.

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